The beloved apostle Yochanan (John) makes the statement in his first letter that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). “God is love” means that love is an essential attribute of God, but love is not equal to God. “God is love” is a true statement, but it does not explain the full nature of God, because God and love are not identical. Love is not all there is to God, because God is greater than love. “God is love” should be understood in much the same way as the statement, “Frank is such a nice guy. He is kindness itself.” By saying “Frank is kindness itself,” we do not mean that kindness and Frank are identical. It is true that “God is love,” but there is more to God than love. Love expresses the nature of the Almighty, but so do His other attributes of holiness, justice, righteousness, faithfulness and truth. The love of God must be balanced with His other attributes.
Those theologians who emphasize that “God is love” to the exclusion of His other attributes have developed an image of an overly permissive god who tolerates anything. Their god is like a doting old grandfather who continually doles out candies to his spoiled grandchildren. If this kind of “love” was all there was to God’s nature, He would not be the Holy One of Israel. He would not be the God of the prophets. He would not be the righteous Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.
From God’s other attributes we can learn something about the nature of His love. Because God is holy, His love is the essence of perfect purity. Because He is self-existent, His love had no beginning. Because He is eternal, His love can have no end. Because He is infinite, His love has no bounds because it is not a thing, but a facet of His limitless nature. His love can embrace the entire world and have room for a million billion other worlds beside.
God’s love is infinite, but that does not mean that His love is unconditional. When men and women seek Him and try to do His will, He responds with genuine love and affection. But when God reaches out to fallen human beings with the Message about the Messiah that can save them, if they will not repent, if they harden their hearts, if they refuse to respond to God’s love with repentance, faith and obedience, then God will eventually send those people into eternity separated from His love, which is Hell.
The fact that love is an essential part of God’s nature tells us that the God of Israel is unlike the gods of the Gentiles. Those gods were usually hateful, spiteful, capricious and angry. Neither is He the god of the philosophers, who was understood as being aloof, indifferent, and without emotion. Their philosophic concept of a Supreme Being who is far removed from the day to day cares of humanity, and not emotionally involved with His creation, is not the God of the Holy Scriptures. Even though He is perfectly self-sufficient, the Self-Sufficient One has allowed His heart to love human beings. The Word of God frequently mentions the love that God has for His creation. The Bible refers to Him as the God of love (2 Cor. 13:11) and declares that this is love… God loved us and sent His Son to be the atonement for our sins (1 John 4:10).
WHAT IS LOVE?
People have many confused ideas about love. Maybe the reason is due to the fact that our values are formed more by Hollywood than by Heaven. For example, love is often confused with sex. A man will ask a woman, “do you want to make love?” as if love and sex were the same thing. Love can be expressed through sex, but sex is not the same as love. Sex outside of a committed, mutually giving, marriage relationship is not love but lust. Often when a man says he loves a woman, it is only to get something from her. Love is by its nature giving, bestowing, and imparting. When you are primarily taking instead of giving, you are lusting or seducing, but not loving. It is better to give than to receive because giving is part of love. The apostles rebuked the young congregations because some of the members had forgotten this and spent their resources in personal enjoyment while their brothers were in need. They exhorted the early believers to be sure that their love was demonstrated by their actions as well as by their words. They had to remind them that whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17).
Just as some people confuse love with sex, others confuse love with warm feelings. However love is far more than good feelings. Feelings come and go. They may grow stronger and then they may weaken, but love endures because it is based on commitment, loyalty and truth. A young man can have warm feelings for a young lady, but he is not acting in love if he lies to her, misleads her, or misrepresents himself. The one who claims to love must be true to his beloved. Warm feelings that are not based on truth are mushy and sentimental, but they are not love.
Some people assume that anything involving pain can not be associated with love, because love means having good feelings, and pain is a bad feeling. Unfortunately, in a fallen world, love must embrace the reality of pain and suffering. Love is not limited to pleasurable actions and sentiments. You are not loving your child if you let him run wild. Love must bring correction, even if it is painful. God is the supreme example of love, and His love which is unalterably connected to His other attributes of holiness and righteousness, can be very tough at times. The tough, holy love of God requires Him to discipline each and every child that He loves.
LOVE WARNS THE BELOVED
Many Christians claim to love Israel and the Jews, but one who truly loves must warn the beloved if the beloved is in any danger. You are not acting in love if you remain silent while your beloved walks down the broad easy way that leads to Hell. There is a fundamental conflict for those who say they love the Jews or Israel but won’t tell my people that there is no other name under Heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12), and that embracing Messiah Yeshua is essential for our salvation. The kind of lukewarm theology that communicates approval and warm feelings to those ensnared in sin while doing nothing to alleviate their predicament is not love, but a kind of spiritual cowardice or prostitution.
GOD’S GREATEST LOVE IS FOUND IN THE MESSIAH
Love cannot remain inactive if there is any danger to the beloved. Love will take the initiative and take drastic action to help its beloved. Love will sacrifice itself to spare love’s object. Messiah Yeshua said this about love: Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
Acts of self-sacrifice are common to love. Love will climb the highest mountain, love will dive to the bottom of the deepest ocean. Love will come down from heaven and suffer and bleed and die on a cross in order to help its beloved. God demonstrated that kind of love toward us, in that while were alienated from the Father, and justly destined for eternal death, Messiah came from heaven to earth, became a man, suffered and died for us (Romans 5:8).
Messiah’s death on the cross was the greatest act of love in all of time and eternity. It was the supreme demonstration of the love of God. God so loved the world of men and women that He gave that which was most precious to Him – His only Son. Since Yeshua’s death on the cross was the ultimate tangible proof of God’s love for us, no one can ever accuse God of not loving us.
LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR
Fear arises when we think that we may be harmed or made to suffer unnecessarily. Fear lasts while we are subject to someone who does not care about our well-being. Our fear is cast out the moment we come under the protection of someone of good will who cares about us. That is why there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). A child who is lost in a crowded store is usually fearful because the strangers around him are seen as potential enemies without good will toward him. The moment the child is back safe in its mother’s protection, all fear leaves, because the love of the mother casts out the child’s fear.
As long as we believe our fate is in the hand of chance, or that our destiny is determined by the law of averages, or that our survival resides in our ability to outwit our enemies, we have good reason to be afraid. But when we understand that God is love, all our fears can be cast out. How liberating to know that His love inclines Him to desire our well-being, and His almighty power enables Him to do what is best for us, and that nothing in creation is able to separate us from the love of God which is centered in Messiah Yeshua our Lord!
ISRAEL IS THE SPECIAL OBJECT OF GOD’S LOVE
The Creator loves His creation, but He has a special love for the sons of Israel. In the Torah Moses tells the Jewish people that on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day (Deuteronomy 10:15). Even though we have often disappointed Him, He has maintained His lovingkindness toward us and will one day redeem us as a nation. The prophet Zephaniah was told that a day is coming when God Himself will rejoice over a redeem and purified Israel. The Lord your God in your midst is a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy (Zeph. 3:17). God’s love for Israel encompasses the entire scale of love, from a quiet love to a loud exuberant love. I thank God for that kind of faithful love that the God of Israel has for my people, and I eagerly look forward to that future day.
BELIEVERS ARE THE OBJECT OF GOD’S DELIGHT
The Lord takes special pleasure in His saints, both Jew and Gentile. In the Scriptures, individual Believers are called by the beautiful title “beloved,” which means they are specially loved by God. In the child of God’s experience there is a very satisfying love that distinguishes the Messianic faith from all other religions. It comes from the knowledge that God is love, that He is our advocate, that He is for us, and that because of the Messiah He is already among His people, rejoicing over us.
GOD’S LOVE IS UNDESERVED
God does not love us because we are so lovable or worthy of His love. Ever since the Fall of man we have no merits in ourselves. It is a true statement that God loves the unlovable and the undeserving (which means you and me). God’s unmerited love is called “chesed” in Hebrew, and can be translated as “lovingkindness” or “grace.”
Mankind is completely dependent on the gracious lovingkindness of God. It was by God’s chesed that the way of redemption was opened for us. It is by chesed that we are made right before God (Rom. 3:24, 4:16, Tit. 3:7). It is by chesed that sinners are saved and receive the gift of eternal life and inherit salvation (Eph. 2:8, Tit. 2:11). It is by chesed that we are enriched with all spiritual blessings (John 1:16, 2 Cor. 8:9). It is by chesed that we stand (Rom. 5:2).
OUR RESPONSE TO GOD’S LOVE
Love becomes one of the definitive evidences of having received true spiritual life from God. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love our brothers in faith. He who does not love abides in death (1 John 3:14). When He was questioned by an expert in the Scriptures as to which is the most important commandment in the Torah, Yeshua answered that the most important commandment is: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. All of the Torah and the prophets are dependent on these two commandments. According to Yeshua, true religion in its essence consists of loving God and our fellow man.We need to demonstrate that we truly love God by our obedience to Him, and by our acts of love and mercy to those made in His image. Focusing on others and being a servant to the saints is the Biblical norm for those who claim to love the Lord.
May our heavenly Father cause us to become gracious, giving, loving persons like the man Messiah Yeshua. May we walk in love, like He walked. May we never cultivate hatred in our hearts toward any creature. May we be given the chesed to open our hearts toward our fellow man, and with God’s strength try to do good to all. May we turn to Messiah Yeshua, and receive from His fullness chesed upon chesed. When one gracious loving act runs out, a new gracious loving will come from the living Lord to replace it. May each and every one of us experience the infinite and eternal love of God which surpasses all else.
I am indebted to The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer for this article.